Jen Harner Sims
FX Friday: A Shared Meal
A fresh expression emerging during Lent with a simple invitation: "Let's do lunch!"
During the months just prior to the world experiencing COVID-19, pastors, staff and laity in our church began attending a series of Dinner Church trainings as well as visiting several Dinner Churches. We went with the question—how might we do this in our context?
We researched communities around us and even began some conversations. We found ourselves being led toward a “lunch church” as the model for our community. And then, COVID-19! Our church is located in the midst of 55-and-over communities in all directions. With great vulnerability in our population seeking to serve and those whom we were targeting to come, we hit the pause button.
Fast-forward to 2023, and we sensed God finally saying, “Now!” However, so much had changed—we knew we needed to begin from “scratch”. We needed to “train” and “teach” leaders—some for the first time and some again—on the lunch church model. After prayer and discussion, we decided the best way to “teach” lunch church is to experience it!
On Wednesday, March 1st, Ocala West UMC said to our community, “Let’s do lunch!” One of our pastors wrote a piece explaining the power of the shared meal that was published in the neighborhood communities surrounding us. This article also included an invitation to lunch. We changed our newspaper ads to lunch invitations. And, we gave each person who worships with us an invitation to bring a friend to lunch. We began by committing to 6 lunches during Lent!
The Scripture themes for our lunch church arose from our current church-wide Lenten study of the compassion of Christ in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke, Jesus and His disciples literally feast their way through the Gospel! We chose the first 3 meals and the last 3 meals of the Gospel of Luke. We committed to diving into the themes of Scripture to make the meals joyful and memorable, we would keep our costs reasonable and we would have fun offering gracious hospitality to all!
Each week, we match the “simple decor” and meal to the theme of the Scripture text. We offer a storytelling of the Scripture with humor and sincere emotion, the way we tell great family stories around a table at home. What we have found is a people desiring community and laughter and God’s love and grace.
On March 1st, 71 people came to our first lunch church. The second week we welcomed 76 people to lunch. Both weeks, approximately 10% were guests to our church.
Our very first week, one of our guests shared that she has wanted to come to our church for 8 months but she had experienced some illness and hardship. She not only came to lunch, but she also worshipped with us this past Sunday and was back for a second lunch. She said that the lunch invitation she saw simply opened the door. Prevenient grace meets intentional hospitality—and, Christ wins!
This week a person heard about the meal in her neighborhood and has called to sign up for next week’s lunch. She is new to us, and we are ready to welcome her!
We are challenging our church, to be bold in invitation—people feel joy when someone says to them “Let’s Do Lunch!” We are encouraging them to truly invite people who do not currently have a church home.
What a great joy in on our second week to continue to see members and friends inviting their neighbors—simply saying, “Let’s do lunch!”
Revs. Jen Harner Sims & Michael Sims
Ocala West United Methodist Church
Leaders of Lunch Church: Susan Engle, Adult Ministry Team of Ocala West UMC, Pastor Jen & Pastor Michael & the support of staff members and many dedicated volunteers